DEAR MISS MANNERS: I own and operate a small jewelry store in a largely military area, where our business serves mostly working-class and lower-middle-class people. We have been around for a long time and have a good senior citizen customer base.
We’ve set our margins to the minimum we need to charge in order to keep a brick-and-mortar location, and to make an OK living at what we do. We are not getting rich by any definition of the word.
No matter how many times I’ve been asked, I still stumble around answering the question of whether we offer a discount to military personnel or senior citizens. In order to be able to afford to do that, we would basically have to raise our pricing by whatever discount was offered to those groups, which would adversely affect the working-class people that make up the other part of our customer base.
Many handle my, “No, I’m sorry, we don’t” pretty well, but I need something more to smooth over those who feel entitled to a discount. Some invariably act offended that I’m not appreciative of their service to our country or their advanced age. Will you please help me with a nicer way to convey this?
GENTLE READER: Whole industries have attempted to preempt such criticisms by being on perpetual sale. Miss Manners could have told them that this would not solve the problem. The people who complain are not as interested in the discount as in being singled out for special treatment.
The solution is to express genuine gratitude and admiration for them. Then explain that, since the vast majority of your customers are in their exact situation, you have already lowered all your prices relative to the competition. That seemed, to you, less insulting to their intelligence -- and more respectful of their time -- than creating a discount that nearly every one of your customers would receive.
You may then insult their intelligence by describing their profession as “service,” their age as “seniority” or their poverty as being due to their status as a “working family.”
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is there ever a meal casual enough to allow the host to plate meals for guests at the stove, rather than putting serving dishes on the table? I got into the habit of doing this because it is how I feed my immediate family, and I usually only have one or two close friends as guests.
When my in-laws are over for a formal meal (or, as formal as they get in my home), I do put out serving dishes. Is it ever acceptable to fill a guest’s bowl with a stew or chili and place it on the table that way?
GENTLE READER: It may surprise readers to learn that Miss Manners does not object to informality, only to cheapening it by applying it universally.
Formality and informality can both be signs of respect to a guest: formality, by demonstrating a willingness to do more; informality, by demonstrating intimacy. Family-style with intimate friends is justified when you think of them as family.
(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, email@example.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)